Between Friends: Review of Smoking Gum’s It’s Been A While
Smoking Gum Theatre is a group recently spawned out of Sydney University’s Drama Society (SUDS). It’s Been a While, a new piece by Jordy Shea, is the group’s second theatrical outing. And whilst this production is a sterling effort, many aspects of the show betray the troupe’s youth.
It’s Been a While is quite ambitious in some respects; Shea presents the piece across two tightly woven timeframes. In the former, five school friends have gathered at a beach house to celebrate schoolies. As for so many school leavers, this tradition has become a rite of passage. Booze, drugs and sex are the order of the day as each member comes to learn more about themselves. However, in the present day timeline, set seven years into the future, we learn (early on) that one of them, Nick, committed suicide during the trip. The play becomes the gradual unravelling of why he did what he did, how the group has coped, and who has been keeping secrets.
While the Australian culture of excess and its associated issue of individual crisis is a worthy subject, Shea’s script requires further development in order for these themes to be fully realized. Without fleshing out the lives of his characters further, the reason for Nick’s suicide seems a little unbelievable (certainly in this day and age). Shea actually does a decent job of revealing new information as the plot unfolds. However, much of the dialogue feels stilted and the play’s structure, a string of short scenes, makes for a clunky effect. At heart, Shea clearly wants to say something about teen angst. Shea hasn’t however, settled on what this play is really about. It needs to be about more than just teen suicide – what is the broader social implication of the death and what does this represent?
The cast (consisting of Stephen Bracken, Chris Circosta, Luke Holmes, Zara Stanton and Kathryn Wenborn) all performed with gusto; a lot of heart has gone into this production. Nevertheless, the performers lacked sophisticated stagecraft and as a consequence, the production was characterized by hesitation. One would have liked to have seen the performers relax further into the stage, the characters (which lacked conviction) and the script (particularly in strength of delivery).
Director Lucinda Vitek extracts a fast pace from her actors and to their credit, they hit their marks consistently. The set consists of a raised platform littered with Jack Daniels bottles (filled with sand), whilst the lower stage features a round table with personal effects. The action is cleverly divided between the two levels, representing both the past (played above) and the present (largely played on the lower stage). During the piece, the set pieces are curiously packed up by the performers, who never break character in doing so. Whilst the bottles suggest a youthful sentimentality and physically represent the ‘sands of time’, they seem to have little utility otherwise.
It’s Been a While is a gallant attempt from a young crowd of theatre makers. No doubt it will act as a stepping stone towards bigger and better things. It’s Been a While is play only until the 19th of July. For more information see: http://smokinggumtheatre.com/